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Requiem for the Paper Trail

The Paper Trail: birth certificates, baptism and confirmation records, report cards, school files, club reports, diplomas, marriage certificates, divorce records, telephone books, city directories, military records, membership lists, court records, voting registration, tickets and passes, ships logs, books, land deeds, historical records, hospital and doctor files, publisher's subscriber lists, checkbooks, credit cards, census reports, post office addresses and credit bureaus.

We have left our finger prints and signatures (our bread crumb trail) as we trek through life from file to file. Even a death certificate is not the end of the trail! An obituary records our final journey. Then, maybe a last will is read, which is an attempt to control who gets what, after we are gone.

We are stuck in files scattered all over the country. You'd have to live in a pretty remote place to escape the paper trail. And even then, there most likely would be a record somewhere.

The paper trail is fast being downloaded into computers, to travel electronically over distant phone wires. This is no private trail in the woods; we are public, a name copied into cyberspace that will not be shredded. What is the paper trail's destiny? We may be a hard copy stuck in a file, sometimes really lost to the person who has a legitimate need of the information.

You have to become a modern-day Sherlock to find and retrieve information left on the paper trail. And court houses usually want paid for divulging statistics that are a matter of public record. We have become a commodity on paper. Often we must become a member of some organization for a fee in order to have access to information. Currently some states will not allow courthouse personnel to search records for the public. In those cases, our ancestors rest in peace in the hands of the Genealogical Societies who are becoming their legal guardians.

Lynn Moriarty Parman is an author having recently published her first book, Mushroom Marathon, Running Toward the Prize of Serenity in 2004. She has written other articles for E-zine, and been published in Stars and Stripes in 2003.